ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 146

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Poll: 72% of Palestinians support forming more armed groups in West Bank

Backing for two-state solution falls to just 32%, with 69% no longer believing it’s possible due to settlement expansion; majority says next Israeli government will annex West Bank

Members of Lion's Den are seen in Nablus in an image published by the armed faction on September 3, 2022. (Courtesy; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Members of Lion's Den are seen in Nablus in an image published by the armed faction on September 3, 2022. (Courtesy; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Seventy-two percent of Palestinians support the creation of additional armed groups in the West Bank akin to the Lion’s Den terror group that operates against Israel, according to a new poll.

The survey, conducted by prominent Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki and his Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), was released Tuesday, as the West Bank wraps up one of its most deadly years since the Second Intifada of 2000-2005.

The IDF has massively escalated its activity in the West Bank in response to a Palestinian terror wave at the beginning of the year that took the lives of 27 Israeli civilians and foreigners. The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry has reported 167 Palestinian deaths as a result of Israeli gunfire in the West Bank this year. The IDF has put this year’s number slightly lower at 151, and says the overwhelming majority of those killed were carrying out attacks or had clashed with security forces.

The IDF operation has mostly focused on the northern West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority is seen to have lost control amid the sprouting of armed groups such as the Nablus-based Lion’s Den.

The armed faction has claimed responsibility for the majority of shooting attacks in the Nablus area since it was formed in August by members of various terror groups, including people previously affiliated with the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, among others.

A clear majority of respondents told PCPSR that they support the formation of armed groups that don’t take orders from the PA and that are not part of the PA security forces, but numbers were higher in Gaza, where 84% of respondents backed the concept, than in the West Bank, where 65% supported the idea.

Nevertheless, 59% of respondents said they feared that the establishment of such groups could spark clashes with PA security forces, and 22% of total respondents said they opposed the formation of such armed groups altogether.

Illustrative: Palestinian Authority security forces in balaclavas stand by an armored vehicle at the entrance to Balata camp, near the West Bank city of Nablus, on December 15, 2020. (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Israel has sought to work with the PA security forces to quash Lion’s Den and the PA has worked to convince members of the armed group to turn themselves in, rather than be hunted down and killed by the IDF.

Seventy-nine percent of respondents said they opposed members of armed groups surrendering to the PA and 87% said the PA has no right to make such arrests.

A majority, 59%, said they expected such armed groups to expand to other areas in the West Bank, with only 15% saying that they think Israel will succeed in arresting or killing their members. Fourteen percent said they think the PA will succeed in containing them.

Participants in the survey were also asked about the incoming Israeli government led by Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, which is expected to be the most right-wing in the country’s history.

Sixty-one percent of respondents said they expected the next government to be more extreme than the outgoing one, while 30% expected its policies to be similar.

Fifty-eight percent said they expected the next government to change the status quo at the Temple Mount by allowing Jews to pray at the holy site. Both Jews and Muslims are currently allowed to visit but only Muslims are allowed to pray openly.

A majority of 64% of respondents expect the next government to evict Palestinian families from the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarah, and 69% of respondents said they expected the next government to annex Israeli settlements in the West Bank or the Jordan Valley.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu adresses the Knesset on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Support for a two-state solution fell to just 32% among the Palestinian respondents — five percentage points lower than three months ago. A decade ago, that figure was above 50%. A similar trend has been taking place in Israel, though support for the concept has always been higher there than in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents said a two-state solution is no longer feasible due to Israeli settlement expansion. Three months ago, that number was also five percentage points lower.

When asked which policies they would back to break the current deadlock in the peace process, 59% supported the PA joining more international organizations, 55% supported returning to armed resistance against Israel, 51% supported resorting to non-violent resistance, 48% supported dissolving the PA, and 27% supported abandoning the two-state solution and embracing a one-state solution for Palestinians and Israelis.

Three months ago, 48% supported a return to violent resistance against Israel.

A majority of 57% still said they support Israeli confidence-building measures — ostensibly such as those taken over the last year by the outgoing government, which legalized the residency statuses for thousands in the West Bank and approved work permits for thousands in the Gaza Strip.

That number was 12 percentage points higher three months ago, with the incoming government seen as less likely to continue such policies.

Formal peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen since 2014, though senior Israeli government officials have met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas since then.

Palestinian elections

The PA, seated in the West Bank, has not held legislative elections since 2006, with Abbas canceling a planned vote last year ostensibly over the question of voting rights for Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, which Israel considers part of its unified capital. The last Palestinian national elections were held in 2006 when the Gaza Strip-based Hamas terror group defeated Abbas’s Fatah movement in a landslide.

The PCPSR poll found that 69% support holding presidential and legislative elections in the Palestinian territories in the near future, while 29% oppose the idea. In the Gaza Strip, which has been ruled by Hamas since 2007, support for election was 75% compared to 65% in the West Bank.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, March 27, 2022. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

If presidential elections were a two-way contest between Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, only 46% would participate. Haniyeh would come out on top with 54% support among those who would vote, leaving Abbas trailing with only 36%. The poll was similar to results from three months ago, when the numbers were 53% and 38%, respectively.

Haniyeh was also found to be more popular in the West Bank, where he would win 46% of support compared to Abbas’s 36% in presidential elections, the PCPSR said.

Participation in presidential elections would jump to 62% if the contest was between convicted Palestinian terror chief Marwan Barghouti, currently held in an Israeli prison, and Haniyeh. Barghouti would defeat Haniyeh with 61% of the vote, compared to just 34% for the latter.

If a presidential election were held between PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and Haniyeh, participation would plummet to 43%, the survey found. Haniyeh would win with 60% support, compared to 31% for Shtayyeh.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh attends a meeting with foreign reporters at al-Mat’haf hotel in Gaza City, June 20, 2019. (AP Photo/ Adel Hana)

Overall, Barghouti is the most popular candidate to succeed the 87-year-old Abbas as president, preferred by 39% of respondents, followed by Haniyyeh with 17%. Other Palestinian officials fall far behind: Mohammad Dahlan (5%), Yahya al Sinwar (4%), then Shtayyeh, Khalid Mish’al and Hussein al Sheikh (3% each). A further 22% said they were undecided on the matter.

The level of satisfaction with Abbas among the Palestinian public is just 23% and dissatisfaction 73%, the survey found. An overwhelming majority of 75% want the ailing Abbas to resign, with just 20% preferring he remain in office.

As for legislative elections, if all factions that ran in the 2006 vote returned again, participation in the vote would be 65%. Support for Fatah and Hamas was equal at 34%, while 10% would vote for other parties, and 21% said they are undecided.

Support for Hamas in the West Bank was found to have risen from 21% three months ago to 26%, while backing for Fatah remained at 38%.

However, Palestinians are pessimistic about the chances that elections will be held, with 63% expecting there will be no legislative or presidential vote in the near future.

Marwan Barghouti, file photo (Flash90)

As for who is most deserving to represent and lead the Palestinian people, a plurality of 40% said neither Fatah nor Hamas is up to the task. Twenty-eight percent said Hamas is most deserving, and 25% selected Fatah.

Eighty-one percent of respondents see PA institutions as corrupt, and 69% hold the same view of institutions under control by Hamas, PCPSR said.

The survey sampled 1,200 Palestinian adults in face-to-face interviews at 120 randomly selected locations. The margin of error was given as +/-3%.

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